published March 20, 2013

Washington Symposium Highlights Campus Achievements, Student Leadership, and New Initiatives

The 2013 Washington Symposium and Capitol Hill Poster Session brought educators, administrators, students, and representatives of government agencies and non-profits together March 10-12 to consider the transformation of STEM education. Invited poster presenters represented colleges and universities from around the United States, as well as a diverse variety of disciplines and civic issues. We invite you to read about all invited poster presentations by clicking here. The Symposium was hosted by the Board on Science Education and the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academies on March 10-11, and by the Honorable Rush Holt for the poster session in Rayburn House Office Building on March 12.

The overarching Symposium theme of reaching 'a tipping point' in the transformation of STEM education was addressed by Dr. Martin Storksdieck, director of the Board on Science Education, Dr. Mel Schiavelli, executive vice president of Northern Virginia Community College, David Burns, executive director of NCSCE, and presenters across sessions during the program.

Storksdieck used the example of the "specific event of the Berlin Wall falling [as] the culmination of cultural shift, a cultural narrative that held the previous sociopolitical system of the Eastern bloc together was not resonating anymore, and a new cultural narrative ran counter to the system, making it collapse. The cultural narrative that high school means a teacher and smaller classrooms, and potentially pedagogically valuable teaching, but college means sitting in a large lecture room listening to a presentation that goes a mile a minute, needs to change if we want practice to change. We need more than professional development and new tools for college instructors, we need to change expectations throughout."


Schiavelli noted the critical importance of "persistence," a dimension of the long-standing SENCER project and NSF's support for it that made all the difference in "movement building." He also argues that "community colleges are 'where it's at'" in the democratization of higher education and development of 21st century talent, so, in his opinion, for a tipping point to be reached, it has to be reached within the largest and most diverse sector of the higher education enterprise. Burns wondered if those in the midst of a big change can ever really know if they are at a tipping point. Recalling Gladwell who coined the term, David mentioned that the gathering of a supportive community, like the community gathered in the SENCER project, was an important condition for bringing together what were otherwise disparate individuals and forces working on reforms.

A second theme, communication, was addressed by several speakers during the Symposium program, beginning Flora Lichtman of Talk of the Nation: Science Friday. Lichtman, correspondent and managing editor for video at Science Friday and a SENCER Leadership Fellow, explored the challenge of "how can we talk about science in a way that engages people?" in the opening plenary session, 'Science Needs You!' Reflecting on how Science Friday engages listeners in topics of great complexity, she shared insight into approaches for reaching members of the public at any level of interest or experience by connecting to the reality that "science is all around you; science is happening everywhere." In addition to demonstrating this approach through sharing one of Science Friday's most recent features on waterbears, Flora also touched on the Desktop Diaries series, a feature that allows a peek into the "life and work" of a scientist. Please click here to view the excellent interview with Temple Grandin.

Dr. Kristen Kulinowski from the Science and Technology Policy Institute and author of the SENCER model and backgrounder on nanotechnology led a discussion on effectively communicating with members of Congress, as well as the role of science in public policy. She contrasted the different "worlds" inhabited by scientists and scholars and those engaged in elected public service in terms of accountability, sense of timing, motivation, and other dimensions—dimensions that, if attended to, can inform and improve communication between these different "cultures." "Bringing science to the human level" was a key takeaway from this session, as was the advice to communicate without discipline-specific terms, identifying the way campus work is improving education and life for constituents, and respecting expertise of staff members in a Congressional office as you would wish them to respect yours. Cynthia Maguire, instructor in chemistry and biochemistry at Texas Woman's University, presented on the "Dual Poster" concept, a program that challenges students to effectively communicate their research to non-science experts. As part of the program, students create a second poster that translates the research in an accessible format that clearly explains the implications and societal importance of the work. Professor Maguire is expanding the project beyond TWU with collaborators from several institutions.


NCSCE initiatives featured during the Symposium included the series on Science and Human Rights, led by Jessica M. Wyndham of American Association for the Advancement of Science and Karen Kashmanian Oates, SENCER co-founder and dean at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Wyndham and Oates led a thought-provoking workshop on the confluence of science and human rights, including both a history of human rights legislation worldwide and interactive group discussions. A continuation of the series on science and human rights by Jessica Wyndham is included in this eNews.

Also highlighted was the SENCER-ISE project, which aims to transform STEM educational practice by nurturing new partnerships between higher education and informal science education professionals that focus on civic issues. SENCER-ISE leadership, including Patrice Legro from the Koshland Science Museum and Alan Friedman, Ellen Mappen, and Hailey Chenevert from NCSCE introduced the initiative. An update on the SENCER-ISE work is also included in this eNews.

As announced in a recent issue, a new SENCER Center for Innovation (SCI) has been launched for the Maryland, DC, and Virginia region. Leaders of the new SCI-Chesapeake Bay, hosted by George Mason University, were on hand to discuss existing SENCER work and plans to facilitate collaboration in the region. Co-directors Dr. Tom Wood (George Mason) and Dr. Alix Fink (Longwood University) and Leadership Council members Dr. Sarah Haines (Towson University) and Dr. Gillian Backus (Northern Virginia Community College) shared work concerning teacher education, partnerships with the Smithsonian, and stewardship of public lands.


Additionally, presentations on campus work illustrated the impressive and diverse work conducted by members of the NCSCE, SENCER, GLISTEN, and SCEWestNet communities. Details on all posters can be found here.

Col. Gerald Kobylski of the United States Military Academy provided an update on the West Point team's work to connect math and chemistry around the topic of energy, as the institution heads to a goal of energy net zero in the coming years. West Point's progress on this interdisciplinary collaboration has been a great example for teams interested in this work over the past two years.

Dr. Joanne Caniglia of Kent State University explored higher education and secondary education collaborations, as well as how to adapt SENCER models for secondary school use. The presentation grew out of recent work between Kent State University and the University of Akron Teacher Education program.

Dr. Robert Franco of Kapi'olani Community College and Dr. Judith Iriarte-Gross of Middle Tennessee State University reported on the 'Strategic Synergies' initiative to connect EPSCoR with Campus Compact in nine states, developing pathways to STEM majors and careers for students from underserved communities.

Methods to best encourage student leadership and empowerment were considered during a panel discussion with three student leaders at the Symposium – Adriahnna Lehman, a member of the Indiana State Student Leadership Team who has revised the SENCER rubric for more effective use, Adrienne Linzemann of Harold Washington College, who was part of work on students' perception of the relevance of studying microbiology, and Lisa Tremaine, master's candidate from Texas Woman's University, who is focusing on environmental impacts. The panel was facilitated by Danielle Kraus Tarka, deputy executive director for NCSCE. Lehman, Linzemann, and Tremaine were eloquent and passionate in discussing the impact of experiences in SENCER courses and with faculty members on both their college careers and future plans, as well as what NCSCE can do to support student leadership. As the result of outcomes from this discussion and input from students over the past several months, new programs are being developed and special Summer Institute sessions will be launched.

In addition to an updated version of the Symposium program with biosketches of presenters and abstracts for all invited posters, the website contains pictures from the recent Symposium. You can view records of live tweets during the Symposium by following the SENCER (@SENCERnet), NCSCE (@NCSCE), and SENCER-ISE (@sencerise) twitter accounts!